This article addresses priority needs for leveraging community corrections technology, training, and programs to enhance supervision and offender outcomes.
The systemic problems facing the nation’s prisons and jails, from the fallout of mass incarceration to the infusion of deadly new drugs, have received extensive public exposure. Just as challenging, if far less visible, are problems related to the larger offender population in community corrections — probation or parole.
Community corrections serves two essential aims: Imposing punishment for crimes without incarceration, primarily by restricting liberty and changing behaviors of offenders serving or completing their sentences at home. Pressure to meet that dual mission has only intensified under the influence of two powerful forces: deinstitutionalization of the convict population and community corrections budget cuts.
That mounting strain is made manifest in the rising percentage of offenders who fail to successfully complete parole and probation, as well as research finding that community corrections has been perceived as ineffective in changing behavior and as a weak form of punishment. Those who fail probation or parole often end up behind bars, contributing to a persistent overcrowding problem.
A workshop of national experts in community corrections, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, has identified priority needs for leveraging technology to enhance supervision and offender outcomes. Among key identified needs to emerge from the expert collaboration are:
- Training officers — Leverage training technology, including virtual reality and augmented reality, to train officers.
- Monitoring officer wellbeing — Develop wearable technology that could help monitor officers’ vital signs, track their location, identify emergencies through physiological signs, send assistance when needed, and build a database on officer safety.
- Managing offender conduct — Develop technology to track offender location and program compliance, including behaviors contributing to criminal conduct. As officer caseloads expand, technology can introduce efficiencies, for example by quickly prompting an officer on an offender’s primary needs or risks.
- Combating substance abuse — Develop technology to assess drug use, especially complex synthetic drugs.